Most antigenic peptides presented to CD8+ T cells are generated from cytosolic precursors and are translocated by TAP into the endoplasmic reticulum, where they associate with MHC class I molecules. TAP-deficient cells exhibit a limited capacity to deliver peptides from cytosolic proteins to class I molecules. One candidate for an alternative peptide transporter is P-glycoprotein, which transports numerous substances, including peptides, across membranes. Elevation of P-glycoprotein expression is partially responsible for the resistance developed by neoplasias to chemotherapeutic drugs. Overexpression of P-glycoprotein has been reported to enhance the expression of class I molecules. Here, we investigated the role of P-glycoprotein in the generation of peptide-MHC complexes. We were unable to detect P-glycoprotein-mediated transport of synthetic peptides into the endoplasmic reticulum of either T2 cells (TAP-deficient) infected with a recombinant vaccinia virus (rVV) expressing P-glycoprotein or drug-resistant cells in which TAP is inactivated by a peptide from the herpes simplex virus ICP47 protein. Expression of rVV-encoded P-glycoprotein in T2 cells was unable to enhance cell surface expression of any of three MHC class I allomorphs tested. rVV-mediated expression of P-glycoprotein enabled T2 cells to produce limited amounts of class I-peptide complexes from cytosolic antigens, but this was not blocked by a drug that inhibits its transporter function, and a similar degree of presentation was mediated by functionally inactive mutated forms of P-glycoprotein. Thus, this was a nonspecific effect that we attributed to diminished membrane integrity resulting from P-glycoprotein overexpression. Taken together, our findings cast serious doubts that P-glycoprotein is a biologically significant transporter of cytosolic peptides.

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